Making, Breaking, and Re-Making the World

Above: Dr. Dale Tracy in the classroom. (Photo Credit Victoria Pierrot)

English Prof Invites Students to “Bring their Questions”

Article by 25366 Anna-Michelle Shewfelt 

Dr. Dale Tracy in the classroom.

This fall Dr. Dale Tracy will start her fifth year as a professor in the English Department at RMC. She teaches theory and core courses and she thoroughly enjoys the time she gets to spend in the classroom with the Cadets. “What I notice most about RMC,” she said, “is how many students are willing to offer their real opinions in class. I think it takes courage to make this offer, especially to disagree with one’s peers or prof. I’m so grateful for this honesty and investment. It’s only by putting our thoughts on the table like that that any of us can come to think something new together or add nuance to our best ideas.” The College, she added, “has an openness to quirkiness. RMC invites interesting chemical reactions among its components and this delights my miscellaneous nature.”

Her miscellaneous nature got its start growing up in northwestern rural Ontario. “I might be what I am now because of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody,’” she joked. “I didn’t know grad school existed when I was growing up, but going anywhere from my town meant long road trips, and my parents kept me and my sister occupied by telling us to pay attention to the story the lyrics tell – I logged hours of training as a literary critic with every visit to the city, wondering what’s ‘real life’ and what’s ‘just fantasy.’”

Dr. Tracy found out about grad school during her undergrad at Lakehead and her “dangerous curiosity” was further fed at Carleton and then Queen’s. “This curiosity,” she said, “drives my research down diverse paths. But all my work shares a common question: What does it mean to present ourselves as people to each other through the social and cultural conventions we live by? (By ‘we’ here I mean humans in general, but my research involves specific contexts all around the world.) I published a book about compassion and the relationships between poet, poems, and readers.” She went on, “Right now I’m studying stand-up comedy, where the comedians often present versions of their real selves as their art, through the artistic conventions of stand-up. When we ‘get a joke’ together, what else do we get?”

Her passion for her craft is readily apparent. “How often do we find ourselves in a situation where someone really wants us to share what’s on our mind?” she asked. “The classroom, to me, is a space of weird intimacy where diverse people show each other how they think. Imagine if I had to probe the minds of strangers in line at the bank instead! (Excuse me, have you read Watchmen? Have any thoughts about how justice works?) I’m passionate about my ideas, but it would be a stale day to leave the classroom knowing only what I already knew going into it. When students bring their perspectives to our texts and questions, we can work toward the most relevant approaches, the best expressions of the facts, and the clearest arguments.”

While she is looking forward to it, the fall semester is still almost a month away and, while you might be inclined to think a professor’s work is done for the summer when the spring semester ends, you’d be wrong. “Over the summer, in addition to researching stand-up,” Dr. Tracy said, “I presented a conference paper about breaking conventions, guest edited a forthcoming journal issue about world-making and reality, edited a forthcoming article about geopolitical and mythic revenge, and finished writing an argument about what the humanities make. So I’ve been making, breaking, and re-making the world in a few different ways, at least in my mind.”